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Why not make a difference when you can?

How to use simple observation skills to make someone’s day

A few experiences recently have reminded me how important this is.


I had my weekly ‘thinking morning’ in my favourite coffee shop earlier this week. New staff member is there, just finishing her training. I’m writing notes but also got my ears open and she asks the manager about the plants around the cafe. The manager says that watering the plants is on the roster, but that nobody really knows anything else about them. New staff member looks around and says: “They’re all succulents, simplest plant in the world to take care of. I’ll look after them.”

Of course, my spidey-sense is really tingling now, because here’s somebody who’s just revealed both an expertise and a sense of purpose. I decide to buy an extra coffee as an excuse to open a conversation: “I heard you mention succulents – sounds like you know your stuff about plants?

This simple bit of listening and initial nosiness was all it took for me to hear this woman’s life-story and how this was a stop-gap job until she could work as a florist. And you can tell when just hearing someone like this, being witness to their hopes is big deal! All the succulents were well looked after and sung to that morning.


Last month I had lunch with a friend who I first met as a business acquittance a few years ago. He never misses a chance to ask if I remember what I said to him back then, during what was then a tough time for him. I don’t really remember what I said, but I do remember the impression I got of him at the time, which was of someone just hanging-on by his fingertips, with the strain showing, but also with this little flame flickering inside him, of something very important he wanted to fulfil. Just looking at the way he stood and a simple bit of listening about what he was trying to achieve was enough to reveal all of this.

The way he tells it, it went something like this:

Him: “I’m not sure if I can take this anymore, and I’m at the end of my tether“.

Me: “Sometimes, all it takes to turn things around is just hanging-on a little bit more“.

And it seems that simple homily was enough, because now he does exactly what that little flame was all about.


Then an email arrives from a former client, somebody I coached nearly 15 years ago. It’s to tell me how they’ve just made the next giant step towards realising a business plan we first crafted, on a beer mat (it’s a long story, but I kept a supply of them back then for doing just that…) , all that time ago. The email includes the line: “Do you remember when you asked me about X? That was the real turning point for me.

Again, I don’t really remember what I said. But I remember thinking about how strong and determined this person was.


So, this is my really important learning.

That there are opportunities to say and do things which make a huge difference for people, just waiting around for us to grasp them. And that people will remember you did this for years and years.

All it takes is a simple bit of observation, listening to what they’re saying, taking in all the other impressions you have of this person. And reflecting back something true about them.

As it’s so possible to do this, why not do it whenever you can?


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Re-calibration and Taking Stock of Achievements

How to stop being annoying and demotivating because you focus too much on what hasn’t yet been done

Perhaps you’re one of those people who always sees the potential in something, the great achievements that could be accomplished. Or perhaps you’re someone who knows what a difference could be made for others if only that big weakness, failing or inadequacy could be addressed. Or equally, you might be someone who often has their eye on the next prize, the next hill to be summited, the next mistake to be avoided.

If anything like that is the case for you – excellent! As a leader, you’ll likely be the person who really makes a difference.

However, this focus on how things could be often comes at a price.

From working with lots of driven and focussed leaders in my coaching, I reckon there are two big costs to this attitude. And from time-to-time, it’s worth checking that you’re not paying too much for it. The costs are these:

1. Instead of being fired-up, you yourself become demotivated and frustrated at the apparent lack of progress. You might start looking around for the wrong new opportunity or lose your drive and sense of satisfaction.

2. The people around you, who might not share your drive, start wondering if you’re ever going to let-up for a day, or ever going to stop and look at what they have achieved or solved. You may well have gone from being the inspiring seer of potential, to a thankless pain in the backside!

The solution is simple, with one important thing you might need to do first. Here’s the solution (and, if you’re a future-focussed person, I bet you’re not already doing this):

Start taking stock, on a regular basis, of what has actually been done. Do this in whatever ways suits you. Make sure that other people are also involved in that stock-taking. What have you all achieved together? What problems have been avoided? What difference have you made?

I can hear the little gremlin voice in your head saying something like: “But if I let them start looking back, at the small stuff they have done, they’ll lose momentum and just rest on their laurels not getting the next important outstanding thing done.”

If that’s true rather than just a gremlin trying to sabotage things, do some work on your abilities to inspire. How good are you at making your vision for the future seem so attractive that people are just compelled to march towards it?


In order to do the stock-taking properly, you might need to re-calibrate what gets counted as an achievement. I notice that people who are great at seeing what could be accomplished, often tend to discount the many small steps that they’ve already taken along the way. You might need to reset your meter so that it does actually start taking account of the many things you’ve already achieved or solved – and help others to do the same.


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Dealing with Professional Envy - Nick Robinson Executive Coaching

Envy, Resentment and Fulfilment

Professional Envy at work. Why it’s so bad and my easy four-step cure

I enjoy the chance to coach with ‘negative’ states and emotions. Things like anger, resentment, guilt, anxiety and so on. In fact, if you’ve worked with me personally, you’ll probably know that I’ll often be celebrating those emotions and states as we discover them. This is not because I’m completely weird (no, really, it’s not) but because these are often what I call “signal” states. That is, they’re a great sign that there is some real potential for change and development. So long as you can address what’s causing them.

Take Anger for example. Anger is a great sign that one of your personal boundaries has been crossed, or that something or someone very important to you is at risk.

Envy, resentment and jealousy (and other emotions or feelings in that same group), are also really good signals of some potential opportunity for growth and greater fulfilment.

One of the negative states or emotions that sometimes comes up in my coaching work with leaders and team-members is a sense of what I call “professional envy”.

Professional Envy is where a person is acutely aware of the success that somebody else is enjoying – and really doesn’t like it.

Team members may feel that another person (or team) is getting too much attention from the boss, or receiving too many rewards or accolades for their work. Board Members may feel that another director is getting too much credit, being a bit of a glory boy, “Has it all handed to him on a plate” or already has too big a slice of the pie.

Experts, consultants and qualified people often seem to experience Professional Envy at the apparent ubiquity of somebody they perceive as a rival. I’ll hear things like: “Everywhere I go, there she is, being idolised again!”


The problem with Professional Envy, from an individual point of view, is that it sucks all of the energy out of getting things done and spoils the chance for enjoying what is happening. From an organisational point of view, Professional Envy can lead to a deterioration of effective working relationships, to passive resistance towards other people’s initiatives or even to outright sabotage of important projects.

If you or someone you know is exhibiting signs of professional envy, here’s my easy four-step cure.

The first step is to recognise professional envy as one of my ‘signal emotions’.

Take a moment to get some clarity around who is the object of your professional envy, and notice what you’re experiencing and how that feels. Then begin to label that experience as a sign that there’s an opportunity here for you to grow and develop towards much more fulfilment for you personally.

Second, you need to know that professional envy is a sign that you are not achieving all that you want to achieve.

Deep down, you probably already know this. You may have found yourself blocked from achieving what you originally set out to achieve. Circumstances may not have been in your favour. You may have experienced set-backs, failures or a crisis of confidence. In a way, it doesn’t really matter what your current circumstances are. The most important thing is just to recognise that – right now – you are not doing all that you want to be doing.

The third step is to shift your focus away from the object of your professional envy, and back onto you and what you want for yourself.

Don’t be saying stuff like: “Oh, I want them to fall flat on their face.” It’s understandable to want that, and it might be funny to see, but it won’t really help you any.

Instead, put your attention onto what you do want, for you. Allow yourself to dream big again.

There’s a couple of possible outcomes from this step, which fall broadly into these two categories:

  1. You realise that there is some really ambitious stuff that you’d like to be working towards;
  2. You realise that you’re actually reasonably happy not bothering to be achievement-focussed and quite like things as they are.

The fourth step is to take the outputs from step 3 and begin working on them.

This is the most powerful part of the process. Even if you’re not entirely clear what it is that you’re ambitious about. Or if you’re not entirely sure how to be content just as you are. Just start working on it.

It’s a bit like what Buddhists call “entering the stream”. You’ve taken a decision to drop the things that were not helping you. Instead, you’re dipping your foot into the wider current of potential energy that now starts to ripple and become available to you as a flowing force.


Experience with clients suggests that these four steps alone are not enough to achieve that big thing nor to re-discover that contentment. They are however, almost always enough in themselves to completely vanish that sense of Professional Envy.

Good luck, and let me know how you get on.

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Personal Energy, Balance & Priorities

If you’re someone who loves their work, how do you re-energise your personal priorities and keep your sense of balance?

I’ve always got a lot of satisfaction and motivation from the jobs I’ve done.

Yes, some jobs have been way better than others and, no, I haven’t always enjoyed everything but on the whole I feel I’ve been lucky enough to never have a job that I didn’t feel energised by.

Personally, I’m not a big fan of the term “work-life balance” because, for me at least, I don’t really want the two to be as separate as that phrase implies. I don’t want to have to separate “work” from my “life” because I want meaningful work that is an integral part of my everyday existence. I don’t want to have to switch-off part of who I really am when I’m at work and I don’t want to have to put away my dreams and ambitions about work when I’m not in the office.


Thankfully I’m not the only one who wants meaningful work that they can really throw themselves into. I know this is true, because I’ve coached with lots of other people who are like it too.

But how do you sustain this intensity? How do you have work that you can really give yourself to, but also not lose sight of why you’re actually doing that?

The people I’ve coached with who have solved this, do actually go for something you could describe as a kind of “balance”. However, for them it doesn’t seem to be about work-life balance. Instead, I think it’s about two or three different but important kinds of balance:

1. Don’t try to have all your impact in one place.
Whatever the meaning is that you find in your work, whatever it is that you’re here to give to the world, spread it around a bit. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. If all of your life-purpose goes into one workplace, you’re at the mercy of the ebbs and flows of that place. And you also risk your laser focus becoming too bright and hot in one small spot.

2. Think in cycles.
When you step back and take a look, pretty much everything in our world goes in cycles: day-night; Spring-Summer-Autumn-Winter; work-eat-sleep. It’s as if life is all inter-connected sine waves. Nature shows us that there are times to push hard up the slope and there are times to coast easily down the other side. Make sure that your tendency to be always on, always pushing, isn’t getting in the way of your own natural cycle.

3. Raise your head and remember what’s really important.
I’ve written before about how finding purpose is really about finding what we’re good at and doing that (see here). It is possible, however, to get stuck in that virtuous circle of getting even better at what you’re great at, so that you enjoy it and do even more of it. If you’re working really hard because you like being energised by and finding meaning in your work, raise your head from the flywheel long enough to remember that work isn’t the only way to be energised and find meaning. Similarly, if you’re working really hard because you want to give the kids a great future, just remember that working really hard isn’t the only way to do that – and that you might be there just out of habit
 

Great One-on-One Meetings for Busy Managers: booklet now available on Amazon

If you found this article useful, you might want to grab a copy of my latest short eBooklet from Amazon. Please use the buttons or image below to see a preview or buy your copy: